Water Users Applaud New Federal Science Initiative

July 29, 2020
Contact Information: Paul Simmons, Executive Director
(916) 769-6685; psimmons@somachlaw.com

Water Users Applaud New Federal Science Initiative

Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) expressed strong support for today’s announcement of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) plan to bring better and more objective science and transparency to decisions on operations of the Klamath Project. “This is very welcome and encouraging news,” said KWUA Executive Director and Counsel Paul
Simmons. “This initiative should bring rigor to the science and expose agency processes to daylight.”

Reclamation’s announcement came less than three weeks after Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman visited the area and met with Klamath Project irrigators. “The Secretary and Commissioner are delivering on one of our highest priority requests; it is great to know we were heard,” said KWUA President Tricia Hill.

The Klamath Project provides irrigation water for about 200,000 acres lying in Klamath County, Oregon, and Siskiyou and Modoc Counties, California. For the past 25 years, Project supplies have been subject to regulation under the Endangered Species Act, with federal agency staffs prescribing water volumes that have to be held in Upper Klamath Lake for endangered
sucker species and released to the Klamath River for coho salmon. Farming and ranching communities have been injured and there has been no positive response in fish populations.

“It’s a tired regulatory paradigm that has hurt farmers and wildlife refuges without doing anyone any good,” said Klamath Irrigation District President Ty Kliewer. “Fifteen years ago, the National Academy of Sciences told us that more water does not mean more fish. We need to anchor future work to that finding.”

Reclamation announced that it will pursue a new study of the natural flow of the Klamath River, which KWUA believes will confirm that Project land consumes less water than it did in pre-development conditions and that recent flow releases to the Klamath River are artificially high. There will also be updated and ongoing re-evaluation of the regulatory basis for Upper Klamath Lake elevations and Klamath River flows that have caused water shortage for irrigation and wildlife refuges served through Project facilities.

“Secretary Bernhardt made it very clear in our meeting that future decisions will be based on good science,” said Ms. Hill. “That is music to our ears.”

KWUA also hopes these steps will help bring transparency to regulatory processes. “We need objectivity and not pre-ordained results,” said Mr. Simmons. “We are encouraged that we can get there.”

Ms. Hill said that the Trump Administration inherited a damaging regulatory and scientific approach to the Klamath Project that formed over recent decades. “This is a welcome move to get us on a better path, and we’re ready to work with all parties who put science first.”

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